Aung San Suu Kyi: Bringing Up A Gentler Generation
Recently, MSLGROUP’s Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society hosted a dinner in honour of Aung San Suu Kyi on the theme of future growth and the importance of sustainability, accountability, good governance, leaders and leadership. Here are excerpts from the stirring speech that Ms Kyi gave as well as a video of highlights from the dinner:
On The Role Women Played In Burma
Since my party, the National League for Democracy, was founded in 1988, we’ve had women working in the party. And for some reason, which we must all try to find, women were always prepared to take a back-seat role — to stay in the background and support everything. Whenever we had an important political occasion it was always the women who did the work, who took care of the whole program, but few of them would come forward and talk, although we have women who are very qualified, we have women doctors and lawyers, and our women also shared the fate of the men — they went to prison, they lost their jobs.
In fact, women have been some of our most loyal supporters. They have been very brave, and much more inclined to give up something close to them to help in a cause in which they believe.
I would like to introduce you to my personal assistant Dr Tin Mar Aye, who represents all those women who have worked for me very loyally and very hard, not expecting anything for me in return. She worked for UNICEF, the UN agency. Many people are very keen to work in such an organization, with so many advantages. She helped me for many years, in the evenings, on weekends — of course when I was under house arrest she had a bit of a rest, but when I was out of house arrest she would come to help me. Then last year I said to her, ‘I need somebody full time. Please leave your job at UNICEF and come and work for me full time. But you understand that I cannot pay you a full salary’. And she came.
I think very few men would do that. And I do not know why this is, that
I have found again and again that women have been prepared to give up much merely in order to help me.
I do not know whether it is because I am a woman myself, or because they are looking to the future of the children and they want to build up a country where the children can be secure and free.
One of our members of parliament is a doctor. She was elected as a Member of Parliament back in 1990, and after I was put under house arrest she was arrested and put in prison, and she remained there for nine years. When she was released she came straight back to our party and started working again, not knowing what the future would be, because she was released before I was released.
Difficult Years: Winning Battles
The years between 2008, when the new constitution of Burma was adopted, and 2010 when the elections were held were the most difficult years for us.
A lot of pressure was put on our party to re-register under the government’s new regulations, which would have meant that we would have to expel all of our members who were in prison or some kind of detention. Of course that would have included me and others.
And when, in spite of this pressure, our party decided not to register under the new regulations, there was a big question mark about what would happen to us. Since the 1990s most of the offices of our party had been forced to shut down and the only functioning office was our headquarters in Rangoon.
People referred to it as “the NLD cow shed” because it was rickety and poor.
We had managed to survive in this office, but when we decided in 2010 that we would not re register under the new rules this meant we would not be a legal political party. We had such a lot of trouble…we were not allowed to recruit new members and we were not allowed to replace members who had left or who had died or were too ill to continue for their work. And the government put in new regulations so that if committees fell under five members they would be dissolved.
This was a way to try to annihilate our party. In spite of that we survived. We fought back.
After my release from my second term of house arrest I contested that decision; I said, “Are you trying to go against the laws of nature? We all die. And if you prevent us from replacing those who die this is trying to go against the laws of nature, we are not immortal”.
It sounded so ridiculous put like that they conceded we could replace members of our committees who died or who left. So we won small battles and we managed to keep going.
In 2010 we had to make a big decision. Do we agree to register under the new rules or not? Under the old rules we had no obligation to expel members who were in prison, and we were not obliged to defend and protect the new constitution which we had not participated in drawing up.
And we decided not to register under the new regulations. This was a very dangerous time for us.
If the party had been declared illegal, the government could have taken action against all the members who remained in our party.
And there was the question of that one remaining office in Rangoon: should we shut it down, or not? I was under house arrest but fortunately I was able to communicate with my party through my lawyers. (I had all kinds of cases brought up against me, all at the same time, but in a way this was good because I had access to my lawyers and I could communicate with my party).
We all decided we would not shut down our office, we would not bring down our party flag, and we would stand firm. If the government wanted to come in and shut down our office they would have to do it themselves. We would offer passive resistance, with no violence.
As it happened, they did nothing about the office. I think they realized there was great sympathy for our stand and decided not to take extreme measures. But for members of our party like this woman doctor who had recently been released from prison — she was coming back into a situation where she could have been put right back into prison again. And yet she came back to the party and started working.
So many of our women are like that.
But we were not allowed to engage in political activities because we were not considered a legal party. So to keep our party alive we engaged in social and humanitarian activities. Our women proved themselves to be very good, I think much better than men. So this is how our women of the NLD kept the party going until we managed to re-register at the beginning of this year, because we managed to have the regulations changed. And this woman doctor, and others, entered parliament. Although we are a small opposition party in parliament we have managed to keep up the force of our women in politics.
But it’s not just women who need to be strengthened in Burma; I’m afraid we have to strengthen our men as well.
Beginning Of A New Era
This is a very important time for us in Burma. It is the beginning of a new era, and whether it is going to be the kind of era we want or not will depend so much on what we manage to achieve in the next three years. So I hope that all of you will do whatever is possible to strengthen our movement for democracy through our women. We would like you to engage with the women of the NLD and with other women who are working for democracy and human rights in Burma.
I think I should say here and now that you cannot take it for granted that all women’s organizations in Burma are working for democracy. There are those that were founded by the government and are there actually to counter our work and not to contribute to it.
Bringing Up A Gentler Generation
I would like women to teach women to bring our sons up better.
In countries such as Afghanistan, women are very repressed. And the question we should ask is
“Why do these men grow up to be the kind of human beings who repress women?
Why do they not think of these women as their mothers, their sisters?
How is it that they were not taught compassion and sympathy and respect for women?
How were they brought up?”
I am told that boys are taken away too young from their mothers; I do not know if this is true. But I think we need to encourage mothers to bring their sons up to respect and cherish women. That is the only way we can go forward. If the sons grow up to be exactly like their fathers I think we will find no improvement in the situation of societies where women are so oppressed and so undervalued.
So I hope that mother-to-mother engagement can play an important role in producing a new generation of men who do not look upon women as either underlings or rivals but as friends, and companions — and I think also as people to be cherished a little more than others because we are physically a little weaker and I think we have a claim to that.
So I hope tonight we can talk about ways and means to bring up a gentler generation of both women and men. Because I think some women lose some gentleness because they have had to fight so hard for that rights and that also is a pity.
Originally posted on Womens-Forum.com.